Sometime in 1985 a series of conversations occurred among a small group of psychotherapists in Nashville about how to provide continuing education to psychotherapists. Jennie Adams had returned from an American Orthopsychiatry Association conference in Washington, D.C. inspired.
“Why can’t we have an organization like that right here in Nashville?” she said to her friend Bob Stepbach.
Bob was a jazz man and began to noodle his tune. David McMillan had expressed a similar thought to Bob around the same time and had already secured a state charter for a not-for-profit 501(3)c organization. So Bob told Jennie about David’s similar interest. Jennie and I had lunch about that time at Bluebird Café and spoke with excitement about the idea. David and I talked, the circular conversation expanded inexorably to include others. Nashville Psychotherapy Institute, an organization for the continuing education of psychotherapists, was conceived.
Some years passed before it became clear we were creating something with a long-term future, so we were careless about keeping archival records. Our first conversations and decisions exist only in our varied memories of what happened, of what was important. A few of my recollections may be of interest, to frame the thoughts of the reader’s colleagues which follow in this volume and, for those who were around at the beginning, to stimulate your own memories and reflections.
The small inter-connected group was acting out the next chapter in what had been in Nashville a vigorous commitment to psychotherapy as a multi-disciplinary work. Peabody College had innovative programs in psychology that emphasized action, community, and child development. Vanderbilt University had a highly regarded doctoral program in psychology with a psychodynamic orientation, as well as a crucible for development of pastoral counseling at the School of Divinity and psychiatric nursing programs in the School of Nursing. The University of Tennessee housed it MSSW program in Nashville. Fisk University and Tennessee State University were also preparing young professionals to practice psychotherapy. Preceded by the loosely organized Family Therapy Consortium, NPI was carrying on a tradition and Nashville was the ideal city for our uncommon organization to develop.
A confluence of factors led to the fair wind that made NPI possible. Included in the planning group were several pioneers in the practice of psychotherapy in Nashville: Bob Stepbach, Jennie Adams and Bill Fitts had been doing psychotherapy for years, each a trailblazer who brought unique perspective. Bob was a Julliard-trained jazz musician and speech therapist before he became a psychologist. Jennie had been his colleague in creating the Nashville Mental Health Center, which soon became the Dede Wallace Mental Health Center and now Centerstone. Bill Fitts had, during his early years, developed the Tennessee Self-Concept Scale, widely used in personality assessment throughout the nation. Jules Seeman at Peabody College, who had been Carl Rogers’s first doctoral fellow and research assistant, was already extensively published and pursuing his work on the fully-functioning person. Hans Strupp at Vanderbilt University was widely recognized as the leading figure in the United States in the field of psychotherapy outcome research.
These seasoned professionals and scholars brought wisdom and discernment to a younger group of us psychotherapists. David McMillan shared the vision, was eager to find others who shared the vision. Peter Scanlan, Larry Hester, Gloria Calhoun and I, emboldened by the sanction of our mentors and former professors, made up the initial organizing group. We were quickly joined by Dick Bruehl, then Sidney Bundy, Ann Reynolds, Jim Nash, and Phil Guinsburg. Bob and Jules agreed to serve as our first co-chairs and Jennie took that role the following year. I suspect there were others who did some of that early, heavy lifting, but those names are left for someone else’s recall. We recognized early that we needed an employee to keep us organized and functioning. Pat Snyder, Mary Ruth Martin, and Lisa Smith have been smart and tireless in aiding our growth and civility.
Our first planning meetings took place in what was then called the Mental Research Laboratory on the Peabody College campus. Our first question was a very practical one: What do we do? We decided to start with a simple lunch meeting with a speaker. The first lunch was held at the old Richland Country Club dining room, courtesy of David’s membership there. Attendance was about 14, consisting of the planning group and a few others. Jules quickly invited the group to move its monthly lunch meetings to University Club, as his guests. For many years thereafter, our Friday lunches were moved progressively to larger rooms there as our membership swelled. Jules had lots of guests on each first Friday. More recently, we have met at Scarritt-Bennett Center and continue to grow.
Though a list of our speakers over the years does not to my knowledge exist, it could possibly be partially reconstructed from the scattered memories and records kept by our members. Many of those luncheon talks have been about technical issues in psychotherapy practice. Some have given us a glimpse of issues outside our field and others have inspired us with music and poetry. We have been made rich with education and community-building on many Fridays over the years since 1985.
NPI has expanded its curriculum into an annual day-long conference each February, other special workshops throughout the year, and a thriving mentoring program for young professionals. Many of our members have agreed to serve on and chair our board. Along the way we have partnered with a number of other local organizations to bring prominent researchers and psychotherapists to Nashville. We have had a few parties and are getting better at making room for fun. We now have a cutting-edge website and are able to maintain a small reserve of cash to keep us going.
We have been patient and relentless in moving forward. In retrospect, we were wise to begin by saying to one another “Let’s have lunch.”